Project E36 323is: Building the Poor Man's M3, Part 2
-Suspension Overhaul Completion
By Jonathan Lawson
The next stage of our suspension overhaul—replacing dampers and springs—is where most of the handling magic happens. Internet legend would have you believe that the original dampers on most any E36 are shot at about 60-90,000 miles. Based on personal experience over the years we can put that rumor to rest… It's true. Our project 323is was purchased with 60,000 miles on it and we switched to H&R Sport springs and fresh OE shocks and struts at about 80,000 miles. Having reached 150,000 miles, however, it was now time to replace the OE dampers again, but why go stock when you can go better? Much better!
We decided on the twin-tube KW Variant 2 coilovers not only because they matched our budget, but also because have the quality and adjustability we're looking for. They're rebound adjustable and that will enable us to have the perfect balance between street comfort and on-track performance since this car will see both road and track duty, with the edge currently going to street use.
|As you can see above, the KW V2 kit comes with front coilovers with threaded sleeves for height adjustability, adjustable spring perch collars and both a linear and helper spring. The rears maintain the stock spring and shock configuration, but add height-adjustable spring perches.|
Yes, the term “coilover” is a bit of a misnomer with the E36 since the the rear spring and shock are separate. The front MacPherson struts are technically a non-adjustable coilover strut from the factory, but the rear requires a fair amount of work for a full conversion, and it's really not necessary. Coilover kits for the E36 generally refer to the fact that they offer height adjustability and have specifically valved dampers for their springs.
|The differences in the front dampers are vivid and the new KW V2 housings are a shiny work of art in comparison. The entire housing is shorter to accommodate the lowered stance while allowing adequate suspension travel. The old springs are obviously barrel-shaped, and thus progressive, while the V2s have a helper spring and shorter 400 lbs/inch linear spring.|
|Not only are the strut housings gorgeous, but their shininess actually comes from KW's “inox-line” stainless steel technology, which keeps them looking that nice permanently. More than just for looks, however, that means that the piston rods and threaded struts are corrosion-resistant, so long-term functionality won't be affected. The adjustable collars, or ring nuts, are constructed of a polyamide composite, so they're also corrosion-resistant and are easily adjusted even when the dampers are preloaded.|
|Here you can see them bolted up in all their glory, with the helper spring doing it's job of allowing full suspension travel without the spring becoming unseated.|
The 400lbs/inch linear rate springs up front make a great compromise between street and track. The rebound adjustability means that you can dial things in for a firm but comfortable ride around town and on rough roads, while also doing a great job of preventing excessive roll on track, especially when coupled with our Whiteline sway bars. Understeer can be almost completely eliminated on track because of the reduced positive camber gain under load, the evil enemy of the front suspension geometry.